The Bush administration is mounting a major public relations offensive regarding Iraq. The problem? It doesn't go far enough.
The goal of the current PR campaign is to persuade Americans that more progress is being made in Iraq than most people have been led to believe by the major media.
That's true enough. A coalition led by the U.S. and the U.K. liberated 25 million Iraqis from a brutal fascist dictatorship. No one should regret that or apologize for it. And by the way, the media still have not adequately told the story of Saddam's decades of genocide, ethnic cleansing and terrorism. Mass graves continue to be found in Iraq and the media barely give them a mention.
Today, Iraqis enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and freedom of association – even the freedom to protest. Today, Iraqi oil wealth is not being spent on a dictator's palaces, toys, weapons and the families of suicide-terrorists. Today, there is at least a chance that human rights and representative democracy could take root in the Muslim Middle East for the first time in history.
But footage of a town hall meeting, the opening of a school or hospital will never have the same news impact as the smoking rubble of a Humvee or hotel blown up by Iraqi Baathists or foreign Jihadis.
And that leads to the key point that Bush has failed to drive. The President needs to say forthrightly that even as life improves for the vast majority of grateful Iraqis, the country is still at war -- a real war, a war we may have to fight for a long time to come, a war we cannot afford to lose.
It is a war against well-armed, well-financed and ruthless terrorists who can sabotage the future of Iraq, the Middle East and America, as well. Toppling Saddam did not create the terrorists in Iraq - it sucked them in from other parts of the Middle East and Central Asia. Once we liberated Afghanistan from the Militant Islamists and Iraq from the Baathists, it became their top priority to regain what we took.
That's the war we're fighting now – and better we should fight it in Baghdad and Kabul than in Boston and Kansas City. That is what President Bush needs to emphasize -- how the war we are fighting against terrorists in Iraq is connected to the global War on Terrorism and the totalitarian ideologies that drive terrorism.
To be sure, the current phase of the conflict in Iraq is very different from air war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and from the “major combat” period in Iraq, when we mobilized high technology to swiftly crush Saddam's feared military machine.
Those were “wars of power,” as military historian Victor Davis Hanson has observed, and in wars of power the United States has no match. Everybody knows that – including our enemies.
So now our enemies – the same enemies who survived and escaped from our precision weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan -- are fighting us in other ways. Now they are fighting us on the mean streets of Baghdad, Fallujah and Tikrit. Now they are seeking to avoid wars of power. Now they are waging a “war of wills” instead.
Do Americans have the resolve, the staying power, the stomach to prevail in a war of wills, a war in which the enemy takes no turf but may manage to murder one American solider every day? It's Bush's job to see that we do.
If he fails, Americans may choose to retreat from this war. That wouldn't be a new policy. It would be a return to the policy that held sway for more than 20 years, when Republican and Democratic administrations alike responded to terrorism (e.g. in Tehran in 1979, in Beirut in 1983, above Lockerbie in 1988, in Mogadishu and at the World Trade Towers in 1993, in Saudi Arabia in 1996, in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, off the coast of Yemen in 2000) by running away and by attempting to appease the terrorists. That policy encouraged more terrorism and led directly to the terrorist atrocities of September 11, 2001. It was on that date that we finally began to seriously fight back.
The question now is do we continue to fight – or do we cut and run, as both Saddam and Osama bin Laden have always predicted that Americans will whenever they are faced with a ruthless and determined opponent. If we back down or back away, we may save the lives of some American soldiers in the present, but have no illusions: We'll be sending a message that terrorism works against us, and both our enemies and our friends will understand the implications -- and act on them.
We should then prepare ourselves for more severe 9/11s in the future.
Few of these ideas are being communicated by the elite media. That's why it's high time President Bush began doing it himself. Clemenceau said war is too important to be left to the generals. Perhaps telling the truth about the war we're fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere is too important to be left to the media.